Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer’s disease affects everyone differently. However, it has some common early symptoms, including memory problems, thinking and reasoning difficulties, language problems and changes in mood. These symptoms get worse over time.
Early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease
The first noticeable sign of Alzheimer’s disease is often memory problems. In particular, there may be difficulties recalling recent events and learning new information.
Memory problems can make a person with Alzheimer’s more likely to:
- forget about recent conversations or events
- get lost in a familiar place or on a familiar journey
- forget appointments or significant dates
- become increasingly disorganised.
This is because one of the first parts of the brain to be damaged in Alzheimer’s is the hippocampus, which has an important role in memory. The person is much less able to form new memories, which means they often don’t remember things that have happened recently.
Their memories of events that happened a long time ago are not usually affected in the earlier stages.
Talking to your GP about your symptoms
If you are worried that your or someone else's symptoms may be dementia, read our advice on how to talk to your GP.
Thinking and reasoning difficulties
A person with Alzheimer’s disease may also develop problems with their thinking and reasoning abilities at first. These include:
- difficulty concentrating, such as regularly being unable to follow a conversation, and needing silence and complete focus to understand what someone is saying
- difficulty planning or organising – for example, struggling to do the steps of an everyday task in the right order (such as cooking a meal)
- getting confused about what time of day it is, or where they are.
The person may also think they are living at a different time in their lives. For example, thinking they went on holiday to somewhere recently when they actually went there several years ago.
Language and communication difficulties are common in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. They tend to involve difficulties finding the right words and not being able to concentrate on what’s being said. As a result, a person with Alzheimer's may:
- use more general words like ‘thing’ or ‘stuff’, or say ‘her’ or ‘him’ when they would previously have known a person’s name
- pause while they try to think of the word they want to use, particularly when it’s a word they wouldn’t use very often.
It can feel like the word is on the ‘tip of their tongue’ but then it doesn’t come to them. This can also happen with names of people or places.
Changes in mood
A person in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s disease may become anxious, more easily annoyed, sad or frightened. Many people lose interest in talking to others, or in the activities and hobbies they used to enjoy.
They become more withdrawn over time. It’s often hard to say if these changes in mood are caused by the disease itself or the frustrations of struggling with everyday tasks because of their symptoms.
The emotions caused by living with dementia can be challenging for both the person with dementia and those close to them. Anyone finding things difficult should ask for support from a GP or other professional.
Changes to how things are seen and heard
Although less common in the early stages, some people with Alzheimer’s struggle to judge distances and see the outline of objects.
This can make using stairs or parking a car much harder, for example. They may also find certain noises uncomfortable or upsetting, such as loud music or lots of people in a room talking at the same time.
For more information, see How can dementia change a person’s perception?
Many people find that their thinking gets a bit slower, or their memory becomes less reliable as they get older. However, a person should speak to their GP if these problems are starting to affect their daily life.
Problems with memory or thinking can be caused by a treatable condition such as depression or an infection. Finding out the cause of the person’s symptoms will help them to get the right treatment.
Symptoms of mixed dementia
Some people have more than one type of dementia. The most common combination is Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
Symptoms in the later stage of Alzheimer’s disease
The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease will get worse over time. This usually happens over several years.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, problems with memory loss, language, reasoning and perception get worse. This means that a person will need increasing support with everyday living.
As the disease progresses, the person may also start to behave in ways that seem unusual or out of character. For example, they may:
- become agitated or restless
- pace around
- call out or
- repeat the same question over and over again
- react aggressively
- experience delusions, or less often hallucinations
In the later stages of Alzheimer’s, the person may:
- have increasing problems with daily living, such as eating and drinking which may lead to weight loss
- have problems with continence
- become severely agitated or confused towards the late afternoon or early evening, sometimes known as sundowning
- experience changes in sleep patterns, such as sleeping more and more during the day.
Like most types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is a life-shortening condition. This means people with Alzheimer’s tend to live for a shorter time than people without it.
Planning for end of life is important for anyone with a life-shortening condition. It can be upsetting to think about, but planning ahead can help to meet the person’s needs at the end of their life.
Dementia Support Line
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